When they were in 6th grade beginning band, a classmate told Mickey Smith Jr. to be sure to call him when he won a GRAMMY. This year, he got the call.
“I was like, ‘Hey dude, we’re going to the GRAMMYs,’” Smith Jr. says.
A band director at Maplewood Middle School in Sulphur, Louisiana, Smith Jr. received the 2020 Music Educator Award presented by the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum. Alicia Keys honored him during the award show.
The Recording Academy chose Smith Jr. from more than 3,300 nominees. The first in his family to go to college, he took Maplewood’s band program from 28 kids to about half the student body. He received a $10,000 honorarium.
Smith Jr. says that he wants to use the recognition to champion for teachers. A year before his nomination, he wrote a letter of resignation because he couldn’t see his impact. Three letters from appreciative students arrived that day and changed his mind.
“I want to use my music and my message to show teachers that they’re loved and they’re valued,” says Smith Jr., who is a saxophonist.
In 2017, he created Sound180, a company that supports teachers with strategies on effective teaching. He’s also an author and illustrator. He wrote a children’s book called “The Adventures of Little Mickey: Keep on Going” about his own experience making “amazingly terrible” sounds to motivate students to persevere.
Smith Jr. had previously been nominated for the competition twice and had been a finalist in 2019.
Smith Jr. says his students and the small community in Sulphur, Louisiana, are feeling the effects of the award too. “When you can touch a child’s heart, then you can reach their mind,” Smith Jr. says, “This award shows our kids that anything’s possible.”